Dean’s Q&A: Kevin Jackson, University of Illinois

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Business. Courtesy photo

Data has completely transformed how we live today. From how we shop to how we work. Now, it has made its way into business school curricula.

Kevin Jackson, associate dean of undergraduate affairs at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Gies College of Business says data analytics has become a necessary skill to learn for the modern business student.

“At one time, a few members of our corporate advisory council would suggest that it ‘might be nice’ for students to obtain some exposure to data analytics. In recent years, that ‘suggestion’ has become an urgent need for students to have a reasonable level of fluency in the data analytics space,” Jackson says.

It’s also changed how students learn.

“The cost of obtaining factual information has declined drastically over the last decade,” Jackson says. “Technology has forever changed students’ ability to access topical content; data is now easily searchable and mobile, taking the traditional textbook and lecture model to the brink of obsolescence.”

The influence of data has pushed Gies to revamp their core curriculum to integrate the studies of data analytics. All undergraduates at Gies will now take courses that aim to build their data analytics proficiency, Jackson says, and ultimately prepare them to thrive in the new technologically-powered business world.

“Along with the new data analytics courses, we are also expanding our unique cohort-wide courses,” Jackson says. “For several years, our freshman students have together completed a course designed to introduce them to the world of business, to challenge them to consider the responsibilities that come with being in business, and to build camaraderie. We are now expanding these cohort courses to include sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Because content has become less costly to obtain, the student experience has become a greater value proposition for engaging in a residential business education.”

See the below interview that includes exciting changes and programs at Gies, how the business student mindset has changed, and advice for students interested in studying business

Kevin Jackson. University of Illinois photo

P&Q: What makes the undergraduate business experience unique at Illinois?

Jackson: As I mentioned earlier, our new curriculum will be increasing our students’ exposure to data analytics. We are also greatly expanding experiential learning within the curriculum. Students will be working on real-world business problems from the beginning of their undergraduate experience. They will gain a clear understanding of how what they learn in the classroom can be applied to these problems.

Our Business 101 course provides a strong emphasis on business ethics and corporate responsibility, helping students become the strong, ethical leaders companies want and need.

In addition, this year marks launch of a new Business Living-Learning Community at our university, allowing students to live in a community of students with similar interests and to explore business issues in a collaborative, vibrant community.

What are some of the most innovative things happening now at Gies?

Gies College of Business has become a leader in extending access to business education through online courses and degrees. Our leadership in online content extends to both graduate and undergraduate business education, and our investment in creating gold-standard studios offers us the opportunity to deliver more blended and flipped classroom experiences.

How have students changed or not changed during your time in business education?

I do think students have changed in the last fifteen years. Clearly, our students continue to be bright, talented, innovative, and ambitious; those aspects remain the same.

However, my sense is that students have become more purposeful. They are less willing to simply do what has been done. Instead, they wish to understand why they are undertaking a certain task and for what purpose.

Students more often are looking beyond their professional careers and are asking questions about how they might be impacting the society around them. In my opinion, this is great news and gives me great encouragement about our future.

What advice do you have for high school students and their parents that are interested in studying business in college?

My advice is to have students try new things. Students may have some idea about what major in business they wish to pursue, but often that comes with limited exposure to the myriad options available.

One thing I have learned is that passion often determines success, so exercising patience allows students to discover how to best meet their professional goals in a manner consistent with their personal values.

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